George Harrison rang me up and said “I’m doing an album with Ravi Shankar and there’s no one I’d like more than you to take the pictures” I’d known George since my art school days when I attended Queensferry School of Art which was about forty miles from Liverpool. We met was via Stuart Sutcliffe. The combined art colleges, Queensferry, Chester and Liverpool made a deal with the local bus company for art students from the three schools to come down to London for £2.10 on open top buses that they used at Epsom for the Derby. I first met Stuart Sutcliffe on the top of a bus to London and after the trip he said to me “Why don’t you come to Liverpool, we can go to The Crack for a beer (the art school pub)”. I used to go to Liverpool at the weekends to meet with Stuart and look for girls with long hair, purple lipstick and short skirts (this being the sixties).
Stuart looked to me on reflection like James Dean and he played the bass in the then band the Quarrymen who went on to become The Beatles. He introduced me to George on a misspent youthful weekend in Liverpool. That’s also when I met John and Paul. They would let me sleep on the floor of their squat in Gambia Terrace opposite Liverpool Cathedral. It was very cold, with paintings and guitars leaning against the wall and an open fireplace, typical art student digs. I remember watching John and Paul on their guitars practising the chords by the fireplace for Roll Over Beethoven and John exclaiming at the end “Yeah, I got the solo right”.
I really liked Stuart and thought his and John Lennon’s paintings were futuristic abstracts. Their work was not my cup of mocha java as I was obsessed with Renaissance painters but I could see how talented they both were. Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio were and still are my idols as I was drawn to the way they used light, the chiaroscuro. I was deeply saddened that a vital young man like Stuart was taken so tragically young as meeting him changed the course of my life. We were both obsessed by art and as artists we recognised each other because at the time I was devoted to painting and had not yet discovered photography.
I saw George again on the set of Ready, Steady, Go! after graduating from Kingston College of Art at the start of Beatlemania. I worked with him later on the Phil Spector Christmas album (that’s another story), where he helped me personally with a mantra that slowed down my drinking and excesses. In a way George lengthened my life span, no doubt about that, after the Hindu practice I then became a Tibetan Buddhist. So I was very elated when George called and couldn’t wait to photograph him and Ravi Shankar and The Orchestra. As a guitarist myself I greatly admired him and Ravi.
The above pictures are part of a selection of portraits I took of George and Ravi on the day, you can really feel the warmth and joy between them. Ravi, George and his orchestra played ragas for myself and my assistants for two hours, it was so moving we all had tears in our eyes. George turned the tables on me when I arrived by taking a picture of me photographing, Ravi, the orchestra and him. If you look very closely at the second picture in this article he’s holding a camera, below is the picture he took, which his wife Olivia Harrison very kindly sent to me with a note saying ‘Here’s a picture George took of you, what a cutie”.
I was delighted when Olivia told me that she was putting together a box set of George and Ravi’s music called Collaborations. She wanted to use the image of George and Ravi under the same scarf on the cover. I was really delighted that she did. Here is the lovely note she sent and the finished box set.
- Clive Arrowsmith is still shooting stunning images, staging exhibitions and is as passionate about photography as he was when he first pressed the shutter at The Paris Collections. He is available for global media opportunities related to his work and photography generally. Bespoke prints from Clive’s archive are also available by special request, for any enquiries (email Eugenie here). Clive’s book Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty & Portraits is available here and Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here